On Friday March 11 at 2.46pm there was an earthquake off the north-eastern coast of the island of Honshu. In the worst affected areas, it was a 7 on the Shindo magnitude scale, but a Shindo upper 5 in Tokyo. It shook almost all of Japan.
I wrote about the earthquake and the rest of Friday here. I wrote that because I wanted everyone in New Zealand to know I was ok, that Tokyo was ok, because no one seemed to believe it. Probably because all the images being shown on TV were of utter devastation.
The first thing I did after the quake (2.51pm, to be exact) was tweet that it had happened. I think I did this because it’s what lots of people in Christchurch seemed to do after the big one there. It serves a dual purpose – a “shit, something big just happened” and “but I’m ok”.
I made a typo – it should have been Shinjuku, not Shinjulu. At the time, I noticed that I’d typed it wrong and I could have fixed it, but I just wanted to post the tweet as quickly as possible and go anywhere else.
I emailed my parents to let them know there’d been a quake and that I was ok. Hilariously, my mum hadn’t been watching TV that evening and so was unaware of what had happened. She thought I was talking about Wednesday’s foreshock, so she replied saying she already knew about it, knew there’d been no fatalities, and so she didn’t think I’d been hurt. Lol.
In the hours after the quake, I’d look at my twitter feed and notice people in New Zealand freaking out in my direction. No one was reading my tweets. Everyone thought I was in mortal danger. It was as if the quake-damanged and tsunami-ravaged regions hundreds of kilometres north of Tokyo were so powerfully awful that surely it all must have affected me too.
To put it into perspective, while the earthquake in Tokyo was really unpleasant, willingly getting my corneas sliced with a razor blade when I had LASIK surgery on my eyes was more unpleasant. Slightly less unpleasant is Air New Zealand’s comedy safety-briefing videos.
I think I’m lucky that I didn’t have the opportunity to watch the live broadcast of the tsunami devastation. It sounds like some of that live footage – the sort that is never broadcast again because it’s too horrible – would have been genuinely traumatic to watch.
The New Zealand freak-out reaction was probably influenced by the Christchurch earthquake, which had only happened two weeks prior. But I felt a bit like a tourist in Wellington who having to explain to concerned friends and family overseas that she hadn’t been affected by the Christchurch earthquake and wasn’t going to leave New Zealand early.
And, you know what? New Zealand television news likes drama. It goes crazy with giant on-screen graphics, flowery language, picking up on the very worst and the desperate need for a “story”. But sometimes things happen that don’t tell a story.
Leaving Shinjuku Station, a group of people stood standing around watching a public television showing live news. It reminded me of a very similar scene from just a couple of weeks earlier – shoppers at Moore Wilson’s supermarket in Wellington standing around watching live news coverage of Christchurch.
I think Christchurch is one of the reasons that the Japan earthquake didn’t come as a total surprise to me. Earthquakes were on my mind, there had been daily minor earthquakes in Tokyo since I arrived, and indeed the very first webpage I bookmarked on my rented iPhone was the very useful Japan Meteorological Agency’s earthquake information site. I was almost expecting a sizeable earthquake, just not that big.
Tokyo was ok. It had suffered only very minor damage in the earthquake (mainly cracking from liquefaction on reclaimed land), there was no tsunami, no nuclear troubles and no humanitarian problems.
Tokyo just felt toned down, like it had lost a bit of joie de vivre, like Wellington did the day after the Christchurch earthquake. It’s that really human reaction to a horrible situation.
Maybe it’s because Japanese are so aware of and prepared for earthquakes. There are frequent drills and training. Minor earthquakes are plentiful, so no one freaks out when there’s a little rumble.
After the earthquake in Tokyo, none of the locals seemed panicked. It was like, “Ok, the trains are down, I can’t walk home, so I’ll have to find somewhere to sleep tonight.”
So because no one in Tokyo seemed to be freaking out, I didn’t occur to me to freak out either. I was weird looking at Facebook and Twitter and seeing people ask “When are you coming home?!”, when it hadn’t even occured to me to change my flights. And I didn’t even feel like I was away from home. Home was where I wanted to be and that was Tokyo.